I set a challenge for myself this week. The idea was to paint a single subject in a variety of moods. The subject I choose was Deepwoods Estate, here in Salem. I took all of the photos for the painting in the same light and although the various aspects of the building gave me different ideas, the photos don’t convey much feeling to me.
I began with the front porch. I aimed to emphasize the softness of the light and the romance of the building. I also wanted to draw the viewer into the painting.
As you can see from my reference photo, my depiction is a little fanciful. I limited my palate to yellows and blues to mimic the soft shadowy light under the porch and the golden sunlight beyond it.
I think the painting works. The most common comment about it is that the viewer would like to step through the porch into the garden on the other side.
Next I painted a detail of the roof-line from in back. This time I tried to contrast the harsh glittering light with the shaded parts of the building.
Because I intended to include many hard lines and less subtle variation in tone I looked for a place where the contrast between light and shade was particularly striking. But I didn’t want it to look like graphic art, so I poured this painting to ensure that the solid expanses of color were lively rather than flat. Once again I exaggerated, the light in the reference photo is not nearly as stark as the light I painted.
I like this painting, but it turned out rather softer than I had intended. I may try it again with an orange and blue palate.
The latest painting in this series is of the whole house. I’ve always found Victorian and Queen Anne houses a little creepy. Like wrought iron, they can be both sinister and charming all at once. On a bright sunny day there is nothing really creepy about the Deepwood House, but it does have a swallowed by the woods feel to it. Despite a generous lawn, there are few places where you can see the whole house. Instead what you see is patches of house through the trees.
So in order to bring out the sinister feel of Queen Anne archetecture, I pulled the trees in closer to the house and darkened the edges where the trees and house meet visually. I also distorted the shape of the house stretching it upwards to about fifteen percent more than it’s real height. Finally I chose a very earthy palate for such a pristine white house: burnt sienna, raw sienna, yellow ocher, phthalo blue and cobalt blue.
I poured this painting too because I wanted a lot of variation in tone. But pouring produces hard lines at the edges of the mask. The result had too many hard lines for the shadowy woods. I did so much scrubbing of the edges, washing over, and detail work that painting doesn’t feel poured to me. But the more I painted the darker it got. I finally had to stop for fear the house would no longer read as white.
I showed the finished painting to my husband yesterday. He said he really liked it, but then added tentatively, “Isn’t it a little eerie?” Yes, yes it is. But I don’t think it’s so eerie that it’s a caricature of the house.
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